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Gathering Shadows – Interlude March 11, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The old knight slowly surfaced from his trance. Grimm found himself sitting at his desk by the window, with a hand held palm-down over his journal.  Half the pages were full now, with the last words slowly writing themselves across the page. He stared at the book without seeing it, his mind still ranging back over 2000 years to his youth.  He’d forgotten how close he had come to killing himself with that one war casting. “More brawn than brains,” he said, with an amused snort.  That stunt had earned him two painful weeks of recovery, followed by the first of many lessons in what Galen termed, “the more subtle uses of power.”  It was a good thing his old mentor had been a patient man – Grimm had been a lot of things in his long life, but subtle was not one of them.

He let out a quiet laugh, sorely tempted to linger on those memories, awkward or not.  Seeing his old friends and loved ones again was almost like having them alive again. But as much as Grimm missed them, he knew this journal needed to be a proper history, not the muddlings of a young man still coming into his full power. No, it was time to delve into the other memories locked within the Key to Winds. It was time to move on to his enemies.  He rolled his shoulders as he used to do, to settle his armor before going into battle with the Shadowkin. It was an old habit, but it got him in the right frame of mind…

—-

“Is it just me, or did that thing recognize you?”

The wyvern let out a hiss as the portal snapped shut, cutting off the voices of his prey.  Oh yes, he knew Galen.  His presence here was an unwelcome flaw in their otherwise successful plan. If the Lord Zephyr had joined forces with the young warrior from Cyclonis…Kaltenn plucked the sword out of his eye and dragged his failing body out into the open air. It was time to return home, to plan their next move.  He spent his last breath screaming out an order to his subordinates.

Soon more wyverns circled overhead, herding a newly fledged juvenile down toward the corpse with buffets of their wings. An oily black substance drained from the dead wyvern’s eyes and oozed out of its nostrils. The juvenile made a clumsy landing by its elder but hesitated just out of reach, its head weaving back and forth in distress. As the substance pooled on the ground between them, a third wyvern dove down and shoved the juveniles’ muzzle into the ooze.

The younger beast shrieked and struggled wildly, but the substance clung to its muzzle and crawled inside its mouth. It thrashed about, letting out a despairing wail before collapsing. Moments later, when it raised its head its eyes had turned an oily black.

Once Kaltenn had settled into his new host he made it give out an eerie, high-pitched cry before launching itself skyward. He rode the thermals until he reached the cool upper air, and turned his head to the north. The other wyverns echoed the cry and joined him, scores of them gathering until the sky turned dark beneath their leathery wings.

They flew for days, leaving the grassy plains of the southern continent behind them. They passed over a spit of land that was surrounded by the ocean on either side, and followed its curve to the east. Further north, they passed signs of what was once a great civilization – ruined castles dotted the landscape, and burnt out towns thrust sharp chunks of walls up like broken teeth.  On and on they flew, until at last they came to edge of a great mountain range. A lone castle sat on the side of the largest peak, overlooking a ruined city. They circled down to land inside a cavern entrance that opened out just below the castle walls.

Deep within the mountain they crawled, wings folded tight to their backs, until they came to a vast chamber at the mountain’s heart. Rows of granite slabs waited for them there, and on each one rested the body of a sable haired Air kindred. Each wyvern in turn would cough out the dark substance over a body and crawl away, making room for a cadre of slaves to rush in to clean and care for their newly awakened masters.

Kaltenn hated changing back. After the power of wings and claws and poisoned tipped tail, a man’s body seemed pathetically weak. He scowled at the pretty Forest kin who rubbed feeling back into his legs and arms. Auburn hair, leaf green eyes… there was a time he would have fancied her, but he’d lost his taste for ordinary women, preferring to mate on the wing. If only the wyverns had a sharper mind, he could stay as one forever…

The woman on the slab next to his sat up and stretched languorously. “What a frightful face you are making, brother.”

Kaltenn turned his scowl on her. “I have reason for it. Galen lives.”

“Oh?” Katyanna said, arching an eyebrow. “And why should we care about one old man? If he were strong enough to be a threat, we would have dealt with him long since.”

“By himself he is nothing, but he gathers strong allies around him. I think you’ll remember one in particular –the young man that created the barrier to keep us out of our lair, while his tribe slaughtered our queen mother and her handmaidens. A whole nest of wyverns destroyed, and the essences of our kin lost before we could reach them.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I thought you had a plan to kill him.”

“Galen intervened.”

“We cannot allow someone as strong as him to have access to Galen’s knowledge,” Katyanna said. She pursed her lips and stared intently at the slave. “Death is too good for him. He has spilled royal blood.” She grabbed the chin of the Forest kin and forced the girl to look up. “What do you think, is she pretty, brother?”

Kaltenn let out a non-committal grunt. “Fair enough, I suppose.”

Her dark grey eyes flashed with amusement. “You’ve stayed too long in a wyverns’ skin. She is ripe and sweet, just the thing to catch a young man’s eye. I think I’ll enjoy wearing her.”

Kaltenn dug his fingers into the Forest kin’s arm and yanked her away from his sister. “Don’t be a fool. No one has survived the transfer to anything but a dumb beast.”

“Then it is long since time we returned to our studies. Fear not, brother,” Katyanna said, reaching out to lay a fond hand on his cheek.  “I have thought long on this. When I am done, there will be no barriers left to us. We will take anyone our heart desires.”

Kaltenn did not relish spending more time is his true body, but the chance to expand his choice of who, or what to wear was very tempting. He rested his hands on the side of the slab and leaned forward. “Tell me your plan.”

“Galen will be prepared for wyverns. He would recognize us as well, and fight back. But a poor, battered refugee?” she said, indicating the slave. “He will take her in without question. And as for his new protégé, what young man could resist a damsel in distress?” A slow, cruel smile crossed her face. “No, I will not kill him. He will live long enough to see everything he loves destroyed. I will make him suffer as no man has in the history of our kind.”

Kaltenn laughed and leaned over to kiss her on the top of the head. “My dear Katya, you always know what to say to bring a smile to my face.”

Grimm’s eyes snapped open. It was unsettling to hear them plotting his downfall. Even worse to know Katya was right, he had fallen into her trap so easily, and paid for his folly for millennia…He shook his head to clear it. No, he would not waste more time on her. What mattered was that they had feared him even then. But why? What sort of casting could he have managed, that Galen alone could not?  The answer had to lie somewhere in the memories stored inside the Wind Key. Why else had Galen left it with him?

He turned to look out the window. The first hints of dawn had painted the horizon red. He had an hour, maybe two before Nox awoke and he would need to return to his duties. Time enough to dig a little deeper into the past. He closed his eyes, and focused his thoughts on his first months living in Zephyra…

———

<- Gathering Shadows, Part 5  ~~|||~~  Gathering Shadows, Part 7 ->

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